LAS VEGAS — Fresh produce had its largest presence at the National Grocers Association’s annual convention, Feb. 10-13.

Produce influence grows at NGA ExpoProduce Marketing Association president and chief executive officer Bryan Silbermann moderated a Feb. 11 breakfast session and stressed that fresh products, especially fresh produce, can be an important differentiator for an independent retail store.

PMA worked with NGA for the second year in hosting a produce pavilion on the expo floor with 28 booths from fresh produce and associated companies, up from 20 last year, and by far the largest amount of produce attendees.

“NGA’s strategy is that it’s tough to compete in the center store, and that’s where fresh foods can lead to success,” Silbermann said.

NGA director of communications Lauren Hefner said there were just over 2,700 attendees, up from 2,350 last year, and 196 exhibitors.

Howard Nager, vice president of sales and marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., said working with independent retailers can be more rewarding because they have the flexibility to do more exciting promotions.

John Long, director of sales and operations for L&M Cos., said he talked to more retail presidents and CEOs than at produce-specific events.

While he said he didn’t get to talk to many produce buyers, he talked to some store presidents and encouraged them to work with their wholesalers to use L&M products.

Leslie Simmons, marketing manager for Dave’s Specialty Imports, said she hoped productive conversations with smaller retail executives would encourage them to bring their produce buyers next year as the produce pavilion will likely expand.

The NGA represents privately owned or controlled independent retail and wholesale grocers.